The Baldwin Family Thanksgiving
I have a five-string banjo mothballed in my closet, a gift from my three folkie uncles when I was a teenager. It’s a beautiful old banjo, made by Star in the 1890s, and perfect for playing mountain-style clawhammer, which is the style I learned from them. Like all banjos, it worked great as an attention-getting device*, and I regret that, like the bagpipes, it’s not a Manhattan-friendly instrument. I especially miss playing with my uncle Bob Baldwin, who knows a tremendous number of great old songs. They’re simple and catchy, but elusive somehow — every time I come home from seeing him in Maine, I try to remember the songs he played me, but they slip through my fingers.
Anyhow, here’s an article written by my cousin Max Alexander on the Baldwin family thanksgiving this year, including lots of banjo-picking.
In the tradition of authors from E.B. White to gossip columnist Jim Mullen, Max retired from editing People to a farm in coastal Maine. Which is where everyone on my mother’s side of the family has been gravitating to, for some reason. And is where the banjo-picking takes place these days. Though, sadly, minus the accompaniment of my uncle Stuart.
* To my mixed delight and chagrin, the 1993 Earlham College Admissions Catalog devoted half of its “Campus Activities and Social Life” page to a picture of me banging out “Pretty Polly” on the front lawn. The picture probably was a pretty good choice, though, since it contained almost every possible Quaker school symbol. I had my hair in a ponytail, had my legs crossed showing my tattoo, and was singing to Amy Workman, who was wearing Birkenstocks and straddling a mountain bike. I bet I even had a bag of granola in my pocket.